8 March 2022
Edward III (1327-1377), An Important Gold Leopard of Edward III’s Third (Florin) coinage, First issue, January 1343 [O.S.]
+ Edwr’ · d’ · gra’ · rex · angl’ · z · franc’ · dns : hib’ (stops small annulets)
Crowned leopard séjant left, tail turned between his hind legs and passing behind him; around his neck a banner carrying the quartered arms of England and France ancient.
+ : Domine : ne : in : fvrore : tvO : argvas : me : (stops small double annulets)
Voided cross with ornate quatrefoil finials within quatrefoil tressure, lis on cusps and lions in spandrels.
(Stewartby p.196; SCBI Schneider –; N 1106; S 1477).
Obverse about very fine, retaining light surface marks consistent with a field find, reverse better than very fine and retaining original brilliance, exceptionally rare; by far the finer of the two known specimens available to commerce £100,000-£140,000
Found with a gold Noble of Edward III in north Norfolk, October 2019 (BM. 2020T40; PAS NMS-30E3B9); disclaimed 18 November 2021.
Four other examples are known:
British Museum, purchased in 1810, part of the collection formed by Barré Charles Roberts (1789-1810) [previously from the collection of the Coventry antiquary Thomas Sharp (1770-1841), and published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, 1800, vol. ii, p.945].
British Museum, purchased in 1915 from the estate of John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) [previously in the collections of John Brumell (1771-1850: Sotheby Auction, 19-27 April 1850, lot 196, £126), Edward Wright Wigan (1823-71) and Sir John Evans (1823-1908)].
Ashmolean Museum, purchased in 1956 from the Richard Cyril Lockett (1873-1950) Collection, Part II, Glendining Auction, 11-17 October 1956, lot 1223, £920 [previously Puttick & Simpson Auction, 29 June 1922, £170].
Private Collection, purchased from the Lord Stewartby (1935-2018) Collection, Part III, Spink Auction 239, 26 September 2016, lot 893, £4,300 [previously Spink Auction 164, 23 July 2003, lot 379, £4,400].
The Roman Empire had a sophisticated economy with coinage in gold, silver and bronze. While this system survived to some extent in the Byzantine territories, in most of western Europe silver alone became the staple circulating medium in the ninth century. In Italy, by the 13th century, the increasing volume and importance of trade required increasingly larger amounts of specie. Perhaps due to the influence of the Arabic-inspired gold coinage of the kings of Sicily, the trading republic of Florence introduced the gold florin in 1252 and the neighbouring city state of Genoa quickly followed suit. An unsuccessful attempt was then made in 1257 to introduce a gold penny in England. The Venetians struck the zecchino from 1284, destined to become the staple of eastern Mediterranean trade for the next 500 years. Charles of Anjou, King of Naples, introduced a gold coinage in 1277 with his salut d’or and, not to be outdone by his great-uncle, the king of France ordered the striking of a gold coin in August 1290, the florin d’or à la reine, based on the size and weight of the Florin but showing the power of the monarchy with a seated image of the king holding an orb and fleur-de-lis. These coins sometimes carried a privy mark of a pear with leaves, the badge of the Florentine banking company of Peruzzi, who were involved at the time in operating mints on the king’s behalf.
By the mid-13th century in western Europe trade, and later banking and coinage, were increasingly concentrated in the hands of Italians. As more and more goods were bought and sold by merchants, larger and larger sums were required for payment, some offset by the growing use of credits within the merchant societies, but others settled in full with Italian gold. At the time, the English economy was generally in credit, the export of wool creating an inflow of money, silver to facilitate everyday trade and foreign gold coins for the transactions of the king, the nobility and the wealthy merchant classes. An attempt was made to introduce a large silver coin in England in 1280 with the limited striking of Edward I’s groat. This proved unsuccessful and may have delayed a similar attempt to create a bi-metallic system.
By the mid-1330s, however, the situation had changed. There was a dearth of circulating coin in England to the detriment of everyday trade. As Mavis Mate tells us, ‘In 1339 the situation appeared so serious that the magnates in Parliament voiced a fear that the shortage of silver coins might bring internal trade to a halt’. This was coupled with Edward III’s war with France which drained any remaining money from England and sent it overseas in an attempt to gain allies in his dispute with Philip VI of France. These incentives were mainly paid to the princes in the Low Countries, including Edward’s brothers-in-law, Renaud, Duke of Gelderland and William, Margrave of Jülich, amongst others. These payments were sometimes made in English wool which the recipient could then sell on the European market, but more often was facilitated and paid by the Italian banking houses such as the Bardi and Peruzzi. This was normally done in gold florins, usually of Florentine origin. For example, by the end of 1339, Edward owed Duke John of Brabant a staggering 307,000 florins and a further 52,750 florins were due to the Duke of Gelderland. At around the same time, he promised to pay the Margrave of Jülich 7,000 florins a l’écu and 20,000 small gold florins for military assistance rendered during the previous months.
For a man with pretensions like Edward, seeking to unite the thrones of England and France, transactions like these must have made him acutely aware of the irony of not having his own economically and politically prestigious international currency in gold. A truce in the war with France, brokered at Malestroit in January 1343, gave the King a chance to turn his attention to matters other than the war. At the request of Parliament he sought to restore the domestic silver coinage. In early 1343, Edward received a letter from a little-known Italian moneyer called Peter Circos offering to undertake a reform of the currency. Catherine Eagleton and Richard Kelleher explain ‘The petition relates primarily to silver coinage but, almost as an afterthought, Circos added a final line mentioning that if the king wanted to have gold money, he knew how to make that as well’. Circos was not given the appointment, but in December 1343 the task of introducing a gold coinage went to the mintmasters George Kirkyn and Lotto Niccolyn of Florence.
The Proclamation, reprinted in NC 1900 by Sir John Evans, translates from Norman-French thus:
“The King to the Sheriffs of London, Greeting. As it has been accorded and agreed by our prelates and other great persons of our Kingdom of England, for the common profit of our people of the said kingdom that three coins of gold be made in our Tower of London, that is to say:-
One coin of two Leopards, the piece current for six shillings, which shall be of the weight of two small florins of Florence of good weight; and one coin of gold of one Leopard, weighing the half of the other aforesaid coin, the piece current for three shillings. And one coin of gold of a Helmet, weighing the fourth part of the aforesaid first coin, the piece current for eighteen pence.
The which coins of gold ought to have course among all manner of persons within the said realm of England.
Given at Westminster on the 27th day of January” [1343 O.S].
The design of the florin or double-leopard was based on contemporary coins struck by the king of France and his predecessors, and also copies the majestic images used on the royal Great Seals. On the other hand, the leopard has an obverse design unparalleled in the European coinage of the time, gold or silver. Heraldic lions, mostly rampant, are found across the continent in the 13th and 14th centuries, but the design of the leopard cannot be traced back to any of them. (Conversely, a silver coin based on the design of the leopard was struck in Flanders in the 1380s). The reverse is a variation on a theme followed on French gold coins for the previous 50 years. The closest prototype would seem to be the reverse of Philip VI’s ange d’or, struck for a brief period in the early months of 1341.
Herbert Schneider remarked: “Although the accounts show that a considerable volume of these coins was struck initially, it was realised already by June 1344 that the coinage was a failure”. The reasons are threefold. That the mint charges for the manufacture of the coins was too high. That the denominations of the coins were awkward and did not fit into the domestic money of account, none being divisible either into the mark or the pound. Most telling perhaps is that the coins were overvalued in relation to silver (1:12, when a ratio of 1:11 would have been more appropriate). This advice may well have come from the Italian bankers and merchants, precisely the people with most to lose with the establishment of a successful English bi-metallic coinage system. Seven years were to pass before the correct ratio was applied. Between January 1343/4 and July 1344 a total of £32,000-worth of leopard gold was minted in the three denominations, double-leopard, leopard and helm, yet the surviving numbers are tiny: only three double-leopards, five leopards and five helms are currently known. Undoubtedly the reason for this is the withdrawal of the coinage in August 1344 and its demonetization, pursuant to the first issue of nobles and their fractions in the previous month